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Trooper: Vaping a ‘huge problem in schools’

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Pictured is a “Drug-Free School Zone” sign outside the Warren Area Elementary Center.

During the June meeting of the Warren County School Board, two parents spoke about a drug problem in the schools, pointing to vaping.

The district’s tobacco policies have adapted over time to include vaping.

“The policy handles nicotine and THC the same as we handle other nicotine and THC – marijuana – products,” Warren County School District Superintendent Amy Stewart said. “The policy is written to cover the substances, regardless of the form they are presented.”

“The use of tobacco products, which is defined under state law to include vaping products that deliver nicotine or any other substance, presents a health and safety hazard that can have serious consequences for the user and the nonuser and the safety of the schools and is contrary to both the educational goals, interest, image of the district and the maintenance of a healthy and safe school work environment,” according to that policy.

Vapes heat liquid to deliver a variety of aerosolized substances to the body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those substances often include nicotine, the addictive ingredient in tobacco products, and can include it at high concentrations.

“The American Lung Association is very concerned that we are at risk of losing another generation to tobacco-caused diseases as the result of e-cigarettes,” according to the ALA website.

Vapes can also be used to deliver THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — or other illicit drugs.

Drugs in schools is not a new problem. The delivery system associated with vaping is.

ALA refers to the equipment that heats the substance to be vaped generally as e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes can look like cigarettes. But, that kind would be easy to spot in school. They can also look like pens or computer flash drives — things that any student might have in their backpack or in their pocket. In fact, rechargeable vapes plug in like any number of other USB devices.

Another give-away was the fragrant cloud of vapor once associated with vaping. That is not necessary now, either.

“Vaping is a huge problem in schools, so Warren County is not alone,” Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Cynthia Schick – Community Services Officer at the Meadville Barracks — said. “Vapes are just like other tobacco products and are not allowed to be on school property. This is a law which is not just for students, but for anyone who may be on school grounds.”

There is a difference between what is illegal and what is not happening.

“It seems students have learned how to hide the vapes in school and have found areas within the school to go undetected while using them,” Schick said.

Smoking in the boys’ room?

Sure. But not just there.

“The popular places to vape in schools are restrooms, locker rooms, and school buses,” Schick said. “School officials know that this is taking place but, like anything else, it’s hard to monitor all restrooms and locker rooms all day.”

“I’ve spoken with school personnel from numerous districts and they all have tried to come up with ways to limit constant or repetitive restroom use,” she said. “Students are constantly asking to use the restroom during class and/or between classes. It’s obvious that it’s not all for bathroom use. Students know they can’t be denied so they continuously take advantage of the teachers and staff. People like vapes due to the fact that you can hide them and they do not necessarily leave a cloud of smoke or smell behind.”

There is equipment that detects vapes. Stewart said the district has ordered some and expects them to arrive before the start of the 2022-23 school year.

“Some schools are installing vape detectors which are expensive but effective,” Schick said. “My husband is a school resource officer at Union City School District and they have vape detectors. The detectors are primarily installed in restrooms and locker rooms. The vape detectors are linked to the resource officer’s and administrator’s cell phones so they receive an alert when a detector goes off and it also notifies them which detector went off.”

That information, coupled with cameras in the hallways, help identify who was using the vape.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “vape juice” often contains nicotine and flavorings.

Second-hand vaping is also possible, according to CDC.

The juice can also contain THC and other drugs.

“From what I am seeing kids are getting the THC oils and using this in addition to the other e-liquids,” Schick said. Those substances increase the level of offense a student faces.

“Most school resource officers have the ability to arrest/cite students if they are caught with a vape,” she said. “As long as the resource officer has arresting powers, they can file charges with the local magistrate. The magistrate then imposes the penalty.”

“If drugs or drug paraphernalia is involved, the resource officer may be able to still make an arrest, but if not, then local law enforcement most certainly can,” she said. “Once it involves drugs or drug paraphernalia it becomes a misdemeanor instead of the summary.”

Warren County Sheriff Brian Zeybel said he intends to address the school board about the vaping situation in the schools and the steps taken by the district and the school resource officers to address that situation at the monthly committee meetings at 7 p.m. Monday at the central office in Russell.

Pennsylvania State Police is prepared to offer help to the district.

“We do have programs that we push out to the schools upon request,” Schick said. “I presented in many different schools throughout last year in reference to this subject and am always open to do so.”

She also has some advice for parents.

“I recommend that parents just monitor their children and their cell phones,” she said. “Parents have the right to make rules and impose discipline.”

“Changes in behavior, changes in their social life, changes with friends/ groups, changes with school/work are all signs to look for,” Schick said. “Many parents have allowed electronics and/or social media to take over the job of parenting and I believe this has caused many issues with young people.”

“Unfortunately, people believe that vaping is a better alternative to cigarette smoking, but that is not true,” she said. “The vapors and all the other chemicals being inhaled are very dangerous. Down the road I believe there will be lots of information released on the health effects and dangers. Right now, it’s too new and people refuse to believe that it’s bad.”

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